I have just heard on French radio an advertisement for a bank. It consisted of the anonymous testimony of one of the bank’s supposed customers actually saying that she is convinced that her banker puts her interest before his own.
I hope you are smiling as I am. But on second thoughts I realized that the expression is an accurate enough definition of the meaning of genuine philanthropy and even Christian charity. The heroes of human history are those who made this ideal a reality in their lives. We are, by nature, selfish and dedicated to our own welfare and survival. But some people, some of them Saints, have been so unselfish that they gave the priority to others’ interests, to the point sometimes of even laying down their lives for them. Beyond our inbuilt instinct, not to say – as some do – our hard-wired pre-programming, to contribute to the survival of our species, sometimes exceptional human beings put other people’s welfare above their own, and dedicate, even sacrifice, their lives for others.
One doesn’t need to be a believer or a disciple of the Teacher who famously defined the extreme to which love could go, “Greater love than this no man has ….”, to admire and even try to live up to the ideal He Himself is said to have accepted in His rôle as Redeemer, to suffer torture and execution to pay off our “debt”. His self-delusion does not reduce the pertinence of His definition of the love that comes naturally to most mothers (and some fathers), and heroically to certain other rare exceptions to human selfishness.
Fortunately the rest of us have such models to set the standards for human behavior. Unfortunately we will continue to be surrounded by the credulous suckers who will remain easy prey for bankers, snake-oil salesmen and the sleep-merchants of religion.